Monthly Archives: November 2015

Why You Need Financial Cheat Days

When we think of “cheat days,” we tend to think of a sweet treat or indulgent meal that breaks a cycle of strict dieting. A cheat day is meant to satisfy cravings, and it’s a great way to incorporate foods you normally wouldn’t include in your diet without ruining your metabolism. Similarly, a financial cheat day can help you budget better and prevent an overindulgent, perhaps impulsive, shopping spree.

There are plenty of financial resolutions that can help fatten your wallet this year. You can check your credit card history, increase your savings or adjust your lifestyle to live well below your means. The Internet and mobile apps make it easy to monitor spending, and even blogs like this one provide helpful tips on how to maximize your savings. But sticking to a strict money diet can be mentally exhausting, and even the most diligent saver can suffer the occasional slip up here and there.

The discipline and patience needed to stick to your financial resolutions can be taxing, just like how following a strict diet can drive you crazy. Just like a cheat day when you diet, allowing yourself the occasional financial celebration can help you feel indulgent without going overboard. “Overspending and not showing cash available to support your debts can make it hard to get home mortgage financing or get a commercial or business loan,” says Brad Hettich, founder of the finance and loan company Commercial Lending X. “But that does not mean you have to reserve all of your cash. I usually tell my clients they can still make a purchase here and there, but the key is not to overindulge every month but just occasionally, making it so most months they continue to build up their cash reserves.”

Culprits of Overspending and Indulging

It’s difficult to live a frugal lifestyle when we’re surrounded by messages telling us to buy, buy, buy. We’re pressured by our peers to spend money in order to keep up with our social lives; fashion trends encourage us to always be on the hunt for the latest styles so we can fit in with our friends. Shopping is a sport that requires time and mental energy. Last year, the National Association for Professional Organizers found that 54 percent of Americans feel overwhelmed by all the stuff they have, and 78 percent don’t even want to deal with it. This habit of overspending has led to roughly $712 billion in credit debt owed by U.S. consumers, according to a NerdWallet analysis, and is why many financial advisors recommend planning and sticking to a monthly budget.

Triggers such as stress or a bad day at work can also lead to trigger-happy spending habits that may leave you with buyer’s remorse the next day. Extreme emotions like depression or sadness can encourage people to shop or make purchases as an easy way to cure their emotional state. Have you ever gone out and impulsively ordered something from Amazon when you were upset? Or how about dropping Benjamin’s at a club to celebrate a bonus you received at work? Instead of waiting for a moment of overindulgence though, make it a point to reward yourself every now and then for your hard work. Small, semi-regular treats are a welcomed break from your regulated money diet and can provide an additional incentive to help you stay on track with your financial milestones.

Moderation Is the Name of the Game

A financial treat doesn’t have to be a large purchase; it could be something as simple as buying a grande mocha from Starbucks or buying lunch instead of bringing leftovers to work. Or a financial indulgence can be an investment toward a more expensive reward, like a piece of clothing or a new bag. Giving yourself a specific reward or goal to work toward can help you to avoid temptation and keep you from spending your paycheck on a single item. It also helps to keep some sort of schedule in order to keep track of your financial rewards. Consider creating a calendar with an end goal so you can always keep your eye on the prize. For example, mark in your planner when you want to treat yourself with a trip to your favorite coffee shop.

It’s important to remember that financial cheat day’s only work when they’re incorporated into your regular saving habits. If you find you’re overspending monthly, try holding on to your pay stubs and calculating how much you spend in one week. Consider switching to cash and leaving your debit and credit cards at home to avoid spending on a whim. Sometimes all it takes is bringing your lunch to work everyday to help you reach your financial goals and free up cash so you can reward yourself.

5 Tips for Better Spending Habits

While 2016 is in full swing, if you haven’t thought about a resolution yet, don’t give up. Maybe it’s time to make one that has the potential to stick. If you’re often wondering how money slips out of your wallet, consider becoming the crash test dummy for better spending habits. Test drive some of these ideas below to develop better ones.

Be your own cheerleader.

Patting yourself on the back after following through on a behavior you want to increase goes a long way to help cement a behavior. Ginger Dean, psychotherapist and website owner of GirlsJustWannaHaveFunds.com explains the power of rewards: “When making smart money choices, celebrate them by rewarding yourself. Yes, make rewarding yourself a habit. For example, when you make it through a pay period and adhere to your spending plan, treat yourself to something nice that doesn’t break the bank.” She points out that this creates what we call positive reinforcement, which helps you connect good decisions with positive rewards.

According to research by Wendy Wood, a social psychologist and provost professor of psychology and business at the University of Southern California, a behavior only has to be rewarded initially to form a habit. So once the habit is established, you can relax and let momentum take over.

Cheat a little.

While it’s great to start the New Year off with a new idea, give yourself a lead and start with a familiar task. Repeat the task on a regular basis. Research shows you won’t have to train yourself to do the task, you just train yourself to do it repeatedly. For example, if you like drinking water when you eat at a restaurant, choose to do it more frequently. Set rules for yourself, like, “When I eat out, I will order water.” Before you know it, a small gesture will become a string of little actions that can have a big impact on how you spend. It can also do double duty for your bank account if you send the money you didn’t spend straight to savings. Once you establish one good habit, move on to another like trimming a little bit of your grocery budget every time you shop. Start with as little as five dollars and put that in savings, as well.

Keep using the Benjamins.

Let your dollars see the light of day and allow the real thing to get some exercise. Fans of carrying cash can do this more so in the New Year if it helps you control your spending. If you know you tend to do major dollar damage in just one swipe of a credit card, then this tip might work for you. Curtail the urge to go on a spending free-for-all when using a credit card as a short term loan and pay in cash whenever possible. Make using cash a habit if you find it keeps you on track. Choose a dollar amount to withdraw on a regular basis and challenge yourself to not to go beyond that amount.

Graduate from a spending spree.

Limit how much time you spend in a store. Research shows the slower you shop, the more you spend. Get what you need and go. Set a timer if you have to or have your eyes stay glued to your shopping list, then pay and skedaddle. This way you can avoid impulse buys and filling every nook and cranny of your shopping cart with items you didn’t plan to get. Side step a budget-busting aftermath and make it a habit to make short trips to stick with your spending plan.

Do a happy dance after checking out.

When you have carried out a small, smart money choice like spending less time in the store, celebrate it. As stated above, positive reinforcement can work wonders for habit formation. So if you accomplished all of your shopping in record time, celebrate your small win afterwards. So when you’re looking to applaud yourself for getting out of the store quickly, think of what Han Solo said in The Force Awakens when Finn and Rey reunited: “Escape now, hug later.”

If you originally couldn’t bear the thought of making a resolution, reconsider. Just know that people tend to stay with activities that are manageable. Consider following some of the ideas above to take a step in the right direction when it comes to spending this year. They can be beacons for long-term financial change and help you meet your goals. They can also help you shortcut your way to success by following research that gets results. Employ one of these tips to establish a money smart habit today.

9 Ways Your Phone Can Slash Grocery Costs

Food is among the most expensive costs in the average American family’s budget. And we don’t make it any easier on ourselves by dining out so often in restaurants.

In fact, the average U.S. consumer spends nearly one-third of his or her food dollars in restaurants, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

By cutting back on dining out, and enjoying the occasional home-cooked meal — you remember those, right? — you can save a lot of money.

Following are nine great websites and apps that can help you save at the grocery store, or that suggest ways to stretch your ingredients further.

Cash-back and coupon websites and apps

1. iBotta: This app is a frugal favorite, and it’s no wonder why: The app pays you cash back for groceries you need to purchase anyway.

Here is how it works: First, download the iBotta app. Then, look for deals on popular products. Once you find a deal you like, qualify for the offer by performing a simple activity, such as watching a video or filling out a survey.

Then, go to an eligible store — including Walmart, Target and many major grocery chains and drugstores — and purchase the item. After you have done so, take a picture of the receipt and you will be credited.

Once you have earned at least $5, you can ask iBotta to put cash in your PayPal account. This app takes couponing to the next level!

2. Checkout 51. Similar to iBotta, this app/website presents grocery cash-back offers — updated every Thursday — that you can redeem for cash back after purchasing the item and uploading your receipt.
However, unlike iBotta, you can shop at any store to redeem the offer. And you do not have to fill out surveys, watch videos or perform any other action.

Two things to keep in mind, though: The offers usually are available in limited quantities. So make sure to both purchase the item and upload the receipt promptly. Also, you must earn at least $20 in offers before you can redeem for cash.

3. Walmart Savings Catcher. Walmart is the retail giant that prides itself on its “unbeatable prices.” With the Walmart Savings Catcher app, shoppers scan their Walmart receipt barcode and wait while the app quickly compares advertised prices at top competitors. If the items are available for less elsewhere, you get a refund in the form of an e-gift card.

4. Ebates. Another very popular site and phone app with frugal shoppers, Ebates lets you get up to 25 percent cash back from more than 1,500 retailers. Foodies can save if they buy anything from retailers in the Ebates Food & Restaurants category.

We recently told you how to get a free $10 Walmart gift card simply by signing up at Ebates. If you haven’t done so, now is the time!

5. Coupons.com. Attention bargain hunters: Coupons.com offers free printable coupons for a wide range of grocery items, ranging from coffee to fresh chicken breasts and everything in between.

Simply install the site’s coupon printer on your device, browse the extensive coupon gallery, select and “clip” the coupons you want, and print and redeem. Does it get any simpler?
You can also install the the Coupons.com app for on-the-go savings.

Apps that make grocery shopping easier

6. Out of Milk. It has happened to all of us at some point: You buy a carton of milk only to discover that your spouse picked one up, too. The Out of Milk app helps you avoid this frustrating mistake by allowing you to create and categorize grocery lists and share them with others in your household.
That way, you are less likely to “double buy” and waste your hard-earned cash.

7. Grocery Pal. Wondering where all the sales are in your area? The Grocery Pal app notifies penny-pinching shoppers of weekly savings and sales at many leading supermarkets, retailers and pharmacies. Shoppers can even redeem digital coupons with the app.

Find the best price on everything you buy on our deals page!

Meal-planning websites

8. Supercook. “Dinner’s met its match” is the slogan at Supercook, which helps you create meals out of whatever ingredients happen to be lying around your house.

Just input the ingredients in your fridge, and this clever culinary site suggests a meal. Supercook actually scans all the top cooking websites to find delicious recipes based on your available ingredients. You can even add cuisine preferences, dietary restrictions and meal types to customize your results.

And yes, folks, an app is in the works! Sign up to be alerted when it is ready.

9. $5 Dinners. Is your grocery budget spiraling out of control? If so, $5 Dinners is a smart site that may offer the frugal help you’ve been seeking. This site provides a wide selection of recipes for your family, all for under $5. And don’t let the name fool you — $5 Dinners provides suggestions for breakfasts, lunches, snacks and desserts, too.

Do you have a favorite website or app that helps you cut the cost of groceries and meals? Share it in our Forums. It’s a place where you can swap questions and answers on money-related matters, life hacks and ingenious ways to save.

A Guide to Negotiating a Better Interest Rate on Your Credit Cards

When you carry a balance on a typical credit card, the credit card company is simply extracting money from your wallet. If you carry a $2,500 balance for a year on a typical 20 percent APR card, that means you’re giving the credit card company $500 of your hard-earned cash just to keep that $2,500 balance. That’s $500 that just blows away in the wind. The higher the balance, the worse it is – and the higher the APR, the worse it is, too.

One of the best money-saving strategies is to simply reduce that interest rate. If you knock an interest rate down from 20 percent to 10 percent, you save $250 a year in the example above. That’s a lot of money.

The first step is easy: Just call the number on the back of your card. But you might need some help once you’re actually on the phone. Here are some tips for negotiating a better rate on your credit card.

Make sure you have a position to negotiate from. Have you been a customer of this company for years? Do you pay your bills? Do you also maintain a balance on this card? Could you financially survive if this credit card were to be closed out? Do you have better interest rate offers on the table?

If you’re answering “yes” to those questions, then you’re in good shape to negotiate a better interest rate. If not, you don’t have much leverage to negotiate.

Credit card companies want to keep customers who consistently pay their bills (a few days late on occasion is fine, but skipping months isn’t), but also maintain a balance on their card. Those are the ideal customers. Is that you? If not, then the credit card companies won’t do much to keep you around, as you’re not worth much to them as a customer.

Similarly, you need to be in a position where you could survive without this card. Do you need this card to make ends meet each month? One potential outcome of this type of negotiation is that you end up closing your account – or the credit card company ends up closing it.

Be polite, always. No matter what happens during the phone call, refrain from getting angry. Don’t raise your voice. Don’t ever skip over polite phrases in your speech. Don’t start calling the person on the phone names.

The second you resort to these tactics, your chances of getting a better interest rate drop to zero. The person on the other end will stop cooperating with you and you’ll be left with your current rate.
If you’re frustrated, simply say, “Thank you for your time!” and end the call, then vent your anger once you’re off the phone.

Make sure the representative actually has the power to lower your interest rate. When you start speaking with a customer service representative, you should first make sure that the person you’re talking to actually has the ability to lower your interest rate.

As always, be polite. Try saying something like this: “I have been a good customer, and I’d like to keep doing business with you. However, my interest rate seems high, and I’d like to talk with someone about that. Do you have the authority to change my interest rate?”

If they answer yes, then keep talking. If not, politely ask if you can be transferred to someone who does have that power. Say something like: “In that case, could I please speak to a supervisor who does have that authority?”

Use other offers for leverage. If you’ve done your homework, you should have a credit card offer with a lower interest rate than the card you’re negotiating. Even better, you may already have another card with a lower interest rate. Use that as leverage when negotiating on this card.

Say something to the effect of this: “This card currently has a 19.9 percent APR. However, my other card, a Visa issued by Citigroup, has a 13.9 percent APR. I would prefer to use your card rather than the Citigroup card if they had the same interest rate.”

Offer to transfer a balance. Another tool you have in your arsenal is the suggestion of transferring a balance to the card you’re negotiating. If you’re successful in getting a lower rate than the card you would be transferring from, this will save you money and entice the company to lower your rate.

Say something to the effect of this: “I currently carry a balance on my Citigroup Visa. If you were willing to lower the interest rate below the rate on that card, I would transfer my balance to your card.”

Be willing to play hardball. If they won’t help you at all, don’t hesitate to close the card. There’s no reason continuing to do business with a company that does not appreciate you.

If your attempts are denied, try saying something to the effect of this: “In that case, I would like to close my account with you and pay off my balance.” If they don’t respond with a good offer, make sure that they send you written notification of the account closure.

Carrying a credit card balance puts a real strain on your finances. While paying the balances off is the best solution, negotiating a better interest rate is a powerful interim step that can keep money in your pocket – where it belongs.